GT exclusive: Cash and cult: Behind the latest riots in the Solomon Islands

Smoke from burning buildings rises from Honiara on November 25, 2021. Photo: VCG

Riots in the South Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands have yet to be brought under control, with Chinatown in the nation’s capital, Honiara, set on fire and looted, seeing Chinese nationals suffer incalculable losses. But what the riots really reflect is the extent of influence the United States and the island of Taiwan have over the region, viewing the island nation’s history as a geopolitical pawn.

A survey by the Solomon Islands-based Association of Chinese Nationals obtained by the Global Times showed the extent of the impact Chinese traders have suffered in Honiara following the days-long riots. Many now suffer from “homelessness and loss of income”.

Some Chinese nationals of the island nation contacted by the Global Times said last week’s riots were far more serious than those of 2006. They strongly suspect the influence of the authorities of the Progressive Democratic Party (DPP) to be at the helm. origin of the riots.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told reporters on Friday that the crisis “is being influenced and encouraged by other powers.” He further indicated that these forces influencing Malaita [the main island of the nation] are the ones who “don’t want ties to the People’s Republic of China,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Experts stressed that the essence of what ensued in the South Pacific nation is “geopolitical competition between the great powers”. Since China and the Solomon Islands established diplomatic relations in September 2019, the United States immediately transferred its financial aid offer to the island of Malaita, which is part of the Solomon Islands archipelago and constitutes the main opposition from the country’s central government. In addition, Australia has cooperated closely with the United States in this turmoil, experts said.

The Chinese embassy in Solomon Islands told the Global Times on Sunday that the situation had calmed down somewhat, but security measures still needed to be tightened. In the past two days, the embassy has held meetings with the Chinese community of the island nation to hear their demands and resolve their difficulties as much as possible.

Cultivate influence

Several media reported that the rioters are from the island of Malaita, the most populous province of the Solomon Islands. Malaita, under the leadership of Daniel Suidani, has long been against the central government located in Guadalcanal, and Malaita’s collusion with the island of Taiwan is far from a secret.

A photo circulating online showed that a Taiwan island merchant in Honiara Chinatown avoided being looted by hanging a “Taiwan flag”.

However, this image also sparked speculation about the role played by DPP authorities in the riots.

A Red Cross vehicle passes through Chinatown in Honiara, Solomon Islands on November 26, 2021 Photo: VCG

A Red Cross vehicle passes through Chinatown in Honiara, Solomon Islands on November 26, 2021 Photo: VCG

In May, Suidani, Premier of Malaita, traveled to Taiwan for treatment for a brain tumor. His trip was condemned by the government of the Solomon Islands as “unauthorized”.

A Chinese merchant from the island nation, who calls himself Alex, has expressed concern. “Riots broke out after Suidani’s return from treatment. It is difficult not to arouse suspicion.

“Suidani’s treatment on the island of Taiwan predates these riots,” Yang Honglian, a senior expert on South Pacific countries, told Global Times. Yang noted that Suidani has long accepted benefits from the DPP authorities. Therefore, in 2019, when China and the Solomon Islands established diplomatic relations, Suidani’s interests were affected, following a large protest in Malaita.

“Personally, he is also not happy with Sogavare,” Yang said, adding “As the gap between the two politicians widens, Suidani must stand up and take action. So this time he take the opportunity to make a fuss to meet his own political aspirations.

Yang noted that although DPP authorities did not publicly show their support, the long-term spread of his influence in the South Pacific region was a factor behind the riots. For example, the Global Times learned from a local observer that the Taiwanese cult organization “Yiguandao” played a role in Suidani’s visit to the island of Taiwan. In addition, “Yiguandao” ardently cultivates its power over the South Pacific region in the name of “religious charity” and has increased its activities there in recent years.

Experts noted that Taiwan’s aid to South Pacific island countries is mainly in agriculture, followed by education. They distribute fruits and vegetables produced by small farms to the inhabitants and use these “little favors and small advantages” to gain goodwill.

The long-term influence of the DPP authorities in the region is considerable. Alex said the DPP authorities’ modus operandi was to pay bribes to island officials, which were distributed to constituencies and then used in elections. But yes, Taiwan has not been able to make tangible progress in the development of the island nation.

Mainland China used a different method. Rather, it is the adage “give a man a fish, and he will still be hungry tomorrow; teach him to catch a fish, and he will be richer all his life ”. It focuses on the long-term development of local areas and helps residents learn life-changing skills.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the 2023 Pacific Games stadium project took place on May 5, the first major infrastructure project in Solomon Islands supported by the Chinese government. It is also the largest state-of-the-art multi-purpose sports facility in the Pacific Island region.

Geopolitical battlefield

Statistics provided by the Lowy Institute showed that as of 2018, U.S. aid to Solomon Islands has skyrocketed. ABC said in a 2020 report that the United States had pledged $ 25 million in aid to Malaita, directly raising concerns about the misappropriation of aid funding as a weapon in a “geopolitical struggle.”

The diplomat also quoted observers as saying that “the United States supports an anti-Chinese movement in the Solomon Islands, as part of a broader resistance to growing Chinese influence in the Pacific region.”

Meanwhile, Australia remains a huge influence in the South Pacific region. “Australians own huge amounts of real estate in Solomon Islands,” a Chinese resident told the Global Times under the pseudonym Jessica.

An Australian soldier is watched by young boys during a community engagement patrol in Honiara, Solomon Islands, November 27, 2021 Photo: VCG

An Australian soldier is watched by young boys during a community engagement patrol in Honiara, Solomon Islands, November 27, 2021 Photo: VCG

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was not Australia’s role to interfere “in their democracy” as he sent troops to help keep the peace in Honiara. However, observers noted that the overall attitude of Australia and the United States was in fact to “tolerate and even encourage riots”. “Isn’t holding a position on crime a support for evil? “

Jessica said some locals have a cautious attitude towards the Chinese. “The negative way of thinking that has been influenced by the Western world in the past cannot be eliminated immediately here.”

“The South Pacific region is a battleground for the major international powers,” said Yang, the expert.

The Biden administration announced in September that it planned to invest $ 1 billion a year in 14 island nations in the South Pacific region. This plan is also known as the South Pacific version of the “Marshall Plan”.

“But the plan does not specify how much money each country will be allocated. It depends on how each island country behaves and whether the United States can achieve its political goals through them,” Yang said.

Impacted by riots

Jessica, who arrived in the Solomon Islands from China in 2018, is now hiding in a church and being sheltered by nuns. She recalled that the riot began on November 24 in downtown Capitol Hill before rioters in Malaita attacked Chinatown.

Rioters torched local schools, banks and even police stations, but Chinatown suffered the most serious damage. Some Chinese traders have reported an estimated loss of more than $ 6 million, and some have since been left homeless and lost their sources of income, the Global Times has learned.

“Almost everything in the Solomon Islands depends on imports,” Jessica said. Chinese residents here are primarily engaged in the wholesale, retail, and restaurant industry in Solomon Islands, and the local suppliers are predominantly all Chinese.

“The economy is suffering because of the chain of events. While many people are now unemployed due to the business fire, it will be difficult to get hold of basic goods. This will cause more problems as people will be forced to find ways to survive. Some may resort to violence or crime, ”wrote a local article, which also referred to growing concerns over rising commodity prices.

On Friday and Sunday, Chinese Ambassador to the Solomon Islands Li Ming visited Honiara’s Chinatown to check the losses of Chinese merchants. He urged the local government and the police to maintain the safety and legal interests of the Chinese community.

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